The Ugandan government on Monday signalled the beginning of the end of importation of used clothes, popularly known as mitumba, after it rolled out a plan to impose punitive taxes on importers.
The move, which sets the pace for its counterparts in the East African Community (EAC), comes barely a week after the trade bloc agreed to initiate a process of locking out used items from the region.
At the EAC Heads of State Summit in Arusha on March 2, leaders of Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda and Burundi directed the EAC Council of Ministers to study the modalities of promoting textile and leather industries with a view to stopping importation of used clothes, shoes and other leather products.
On Monday, Uganda’s Finance minister Matia Kasaija was quoted by the Daily Monitor as having proposed to increase the rate of the environmental levy imposed on mitumba from 15 per cent to 20 per cent of the cost, insurance freight (CFI) value in a cocktail of taxes in the post-election budget.
The minister wants to alter the Excise Duty Act 2014 to increase taxes in the Finance (Amendments) Bill, 2016.
Kenya is one of the largest importers of second-hand clothes in sub-Saharan Africa and a decision to phase out the trade has hit a wall of fresh resistance after leaders said it would lead to massive job losses.
The majority of traders, estimated at 65,000 in Nairobi’s Gikomba market alone, have protested the move, saying the ban, if implemented, will affect the economic growth of the country.
During a meeting with the Association of Mitumba Importers in Kenya last week over the ban, President Uhuru Kenyatta signalled a compromise on the easing of the planned phasing out.
He told importers that it was time for the textiles industry to promote local manufacturing and grow high-value jobs while also ensuring that the used items business goes on uninterrupted.
“There is need to provide competitive alternatives for mitumba traders through Kenyan manufactured apparel, to be sourced locally at competitive prices whilst ensuring adequate supply of good quality products,” said the President.
“Ultimately, the key is for the mitumba industry to slowly move into the new clothes market, supporting local production and local jobs,” he added.
Importation of mitumba has been blamed for the collapse of the country’s textile industry.
By doing away with used clothes, the regional states hope the move will improve the value chains of regional member states in the apparel and textile industry, making them vibrant again.